Falcons’ Richie Grant embracing change on the defense

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons safety Richie Grant has started 32 of the 34 games over the past two seasons and is learning his third defense over the past three seasons.

New Falcons defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake had a simple message for Grant.

“Just finding a way to use that aggressiveness for the good,” Grant said.

Grant also received direction from new coach Raheem Morris.

“That’s a different dude,” Grant said. “It’s just like all positive. Good vibes. Different dude. Everything about him is good energy. He speaks life into you. It’s just about how can you get better each day.”

Grant and Morris hit it off early.

“The first conversation I had with him was about coming out here and being myself,” Morris said. “(There isn’t any) pressure. We are all in this thing together. We are all building together.”

Grant, who’s 6-foot and 204 pounds, was drafted in the second round (40th) overall in the 2021 NFL draft. He played 275 defensive snaps (25%) as a rookie before breaking into the starting lineup. He played two seasons for defensive coordinator Dean Pees, one for Ryan Neilsen and now is learning his third NFL defense.

The Falcons were hoping that Jessie Bates III, who signed a mega-deal in free agency in 2023, would pair well with Grant and form a dynamic tandem on the back of the defense. Grant struggled, especially covering tight ends, and ended up being moved back to nickel/dime back late last season.

Quarterbacks had a 126.6 passer rating when throwing against Grant, while only a 67.1 rating against Bates, according to Pro Football Reference’s advanced statistics. Rookie DeMarcco Hellams, a seventh-round pick from Alabama, ended up starting the final four games of the season.

Grant knows he’s in a competition for his spot.

“(There’s) nothing set in stone,” Grant said. “Every day we’re coming out here and competing. We all know that, but at the same time it’s a good environment for everybody to thrive.”

Grant believes things are going well.

“It’s been a really fun offseason for me,” Grant said. “First of all chemistry, like always, every year. We’ve got a new staff. We have a couple of new guys in. We have a new scheme. The chemistry is No. 1, and then it’s just repetition after that.”

Grant is trying to master Lake’s and Morris’ variation of the 3-4 defensive scheme.

“It’s work, but at the end of the day it’s fun,” Grant said. “You get to be in three different schemes, like … they don’t have too many similarities, but they do have some carryover. So, they are three different schemes, but that just makes you smarter as a player.”

Grant is set to enter is fourth season in the NFL.

“We are just getting a little bit older each year,” Grant said. “In terms of just the guys in the room. A little more experience. Even a young guy, like DeMarcco, he had a lot of reps at the end of the year last (season). Even our young guys got a lot of experience. A lot of that just helps the pot, feeding off each other. Always, the chemistry has been building each day. It’s going to be a good year.”

Grant is embracing the change.

“You’ve got new players in here,” Grant said. “New staff. New energy. New vibe. All that together, that just makes it fun. You just have to have that type of attitude.”

The Falcons didn’t draft any defensive backs this year.

“You talk about even Richie Grant up and down, DeMarcco (Hellams), and all of these type of guys,” Morris said when asked to assess the secondary. “You’re seeing these guys go out there, and they’re really not getting the full advantage to compete yet because it’s not the compete time in OTA days. But this is the time to go out there and show extreme detail in your work.

“To go out there and go through what your process looks like and how you want to go about your business. I think that’s what I’m seeing from those guys right now.”

The Falcons’ decision to retain Jerry Gray as assistant head coach/defense should help Grant.

“Them finding their rhythm and their process has been fun to watch,” Morris said. “My assistant coach Jerry Gray does a great job, and if you go in that (meeting) room, you sit there and you watch the detail and the information that’s put into that room, you come out feeling really good about it.”

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